New England Patriots rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard never played in a snap in the NFL before receiving significant playing time this past Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Matched up against Eric Decker while in the game, Dennard did not allow a single pass to be completed. That’s no short feat considering Peyton Manning carved up everyone else on the Pats to the tune of 345 passing yards, three touchdowns, and no picks in his second straight out-of-this-world game.
Dennard was targeted five times in this game, and there was only one play in which he did not play tight coverage and that was against a tight end. He defended one pass on third down and was all over Decker in the second straight shutdown performance from a rookie CB that the Patriots have been a part of (it was Stephen Gilmore of the Buffalo Bills last week).
Coming into this game, Decker was carving up defenses with a 23.0 EPA that is good for eighth among wide receivers in the league this year. Seventh? Good old Wes Welker.
A player with 28 catches for 343 yards this season will likely fair out better than only snagging four passes for 21 yards, but that was exactly the effect that Dennard had on the speedy Broncos WR. In fact, Manning tried to test Dennard by throwing a couple of deep passes Decker’s way, but Dennard was up to the challenge and played as well as any rookie CB making his debut can play. If he keeps it up, he could be one of the other big CB additions in this draft class along with the likes of Gilmore and Janoris Jenkins (was stunningly good against Larry Fitzgerald, as well as throughout the year).
The funny thing is, Decker has caught 65% of everything thrown at him despite going deep on just over 30% of his routes, which are solid numbers indeed. He’s been making plays throughout the season, but his yards per target total took a hit down to 8.0 after being shut down by Dennard when the rookie was covering him.
It was a game to remember for the Nebraska product, and it just goes to show how lucky the Pats were to snag him in the seventh round of the draft. That’s what we call a steal, and I always wonder why front offices put so much weight into “character concerns”. This guy is a late first-round talent, and he showed it against Denver. Now, let’s see if it isn’t just a fluke. The physical tools are there, so another few solid performances and he’ll be well on his way to earning a big role in this defense. I mean, he was the best Patriots DB on Sunday against Denver.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.